For college students, summer jobs are often important sources of experience and income, but as universities let out for summer break, students are facing one of the toughest job markets in recent history.
While the latest unemployment figures are encouraging, with layoffs down and 431,000 jobs reported to have been added in May, unemployment is still hovering around the 10 percent range. For younger workers, ages 16-24, the situation is much worse. According to a recent report of the Joint Economic Committee the unemployment rate for young workers ages 16-24 was 19.6% in April 2010 — the highest unemployment rate for this age group since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking unemployment data in 1947. As a result, younger workers make up a disproportionate share of the unemployed: while 16-24 year olds comprise 13 percent of the labor force, they now account for 26 percent of the unemployed.
This summer’s lean job market for students is further compounded by the fact many overqualified workers are willing to take lower-paying jobs, and many companies have tightened up their professional internship programs as a cost saving measure. For the internships that do exist, most slots have been secured by April or May.
What should students do when entry-level jobs and professional internships are scarce? It’s important to buck tradition and get creative with a whole lot of tenacity, enthusiasm, and most of all – flexibility.
Here are some suggestions:
- Consider a hybrid approach: While one summer dream job would be ideal, it may not be practical in today’s market. Consider weaving together two to three jobs to gain valuable resume-worthy experience and pay the bills. Reach out to local companies with positions and departments in your fields and let them know about your interests and flexibility on hours and pay. Perhaps you don’t work 9 to 5 every day, but work half days Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – maybe for less than you want or even for free. Then, supplement your income by taking a part-time job at a retailer, waiting tables, or as a valet. I know many people who have done this over the years (including me) and it’s paid off. This way you can get the professional experience on your resume to help distinguish you from the competition, and also get the all-important paycheck to cover your bills and living expenses.
- Do some good. If professional internships aren’t materializing, look to volunteering for charitable causes and donating your expertise. You can help the organization at the same time you’re padding your resume. Employers down the road will be impressed with your community commitment and the tangible contributions you made. Plus, it sure beats sitting around for three months. For example, the Red Cross is looking for people to do data entry or help in their warehouses.
- Follow the tourists: It might not be where you’d spend your down time, but it might be where you’ll find a pay check and/or tips. There are still jobs in areas that see increased demand in the summer, for example, car rental companies, hotels and amusement parks are more active in the summer months as more people take off time for a little R&R. Consider which companies in your area probably need a little extra help this summer when you start your job hunt. Here are a few possibilities:
- YMCA is looking for lifeguards and camp counselors.
- Enterprise is actively looking for management trainees at locations across the country.
- Hyatt is hiring a range of interns for various departments.
- Disney and Six Flags are still filling jobs for the summer season.
- And Macys and Dillards have job openings at a number of their retail stores.
Other types of companies to consider include: vacation resorts, restaurants, park and recreation groups, summer schools, and grocery chains. If you need to pack a bag to find employment in a new town, pack along a few friends and share rent and other living expenses. This is a great way to gain important job experience while also creating memorable life experiences.
- Be your own boss: You’re younger and likely more tech savvy than previous generations, so put that talent to use. See if you can make a few extra bucks doing some online or computer work for family or friends, or show your entrepreneurial spirit by starting a summer gardening, dog walking or child care service. Word-of-mouth is one of the greatest lead generators so even if you start small, you can grow your business over the course of the summer.
And while it can pay to be a little unconventional this summer, don’t lose sight of proven wisdom required for any job market or career stage:
- Build or expand your network. Whether it’s your alumni association, or friends of friends…or even friends of your parents’ friends, personal relationships are helpful to get your foot in the door or find the right person in the hiring department. The rest is up to you!
- Get in the know. School may be out, but you still need to do your homework. With the fierce competition, companies want to know you have initiative and drive. Make sure you’re plugged in to recent company news, and read company and interview reviews from employees and job candidates on Glassdoor.com. Also, be sure to check out comparable pay at the company or nearby competitors so you have a current picture of what’s fair salary.
There’s no denying it’s tough out there, but keep your eyes on your career prize. There are summer jobs for college students, but landing one – or three – might require a shift in thinking. Regardless, this summer is bound to provide an invaluable lesson for your future career path.
Keep us posted on how your summer job search goes and be sure to share any successful tactics.